2009 - 01: Lapsed Christians
Question: In church recently, you mentioned that if someone hasn’t come to church within six months, they are considered “lapsed”, and not in good standing spiritually... I thought that we have Christ in us from our baptism. That means He is with us wherever we go. So, why is coming to Church so important if I have Christ in my heart?
Answer: The term “lapsed” is used for those who have turned their back on their Orthodox Christian roots, heritage and faith. If you have stopped recognizing someone in your life, how can you assume to have fellowship with them? In recent months our parish has been focusing on: updating our Bylaws - rules of governance for our parish; encouraging you to be good stewards of your financial blessing from God and returning an appropriate portion of your blessings to God’s Church; making sure the physical structure of our church building is in good order both on the outside and on the inside; and making sure everyone understands why it is important to be in church on time for the Divine Liturgy and other services. What’s the reason for all this attention to our parish, our governance, and our participation? It is precisely to deepen our relationship with God and to have a proper place to worship Him.
We cannot say we have fellowship with God if we are not present when He calls us together for worship. I stated that last sentence very carefully. Just as we are commanded in the Holy Bible to tithe (10%) a portion of our income back to God, we are also commanded in the Holy Bible to come and worship Him at His appointed hour. Church participation by those who wish to call themselves “Christian” is not an option – it is an obligation. That obligation is not from the parish council, nor is it from the priest. It comes from God Himself. We are obedient to His command when we as priest and council schedule services to fulfil the will of God. And we are “faithful children” of God when we observe His commandments and join Him when He calls us to be together.
If Christ is in your heart, you will lovingly and respectfully fulfil His commands because you want to, not because the “terms have been dictated” to you. The fact that many choose to ignore their Church, either by not attending services or by not appropriately supporting her financial needs is an indication that Christ does not reside in their hearts. Orthodox Christianity is not a function we participate in; it is a living, vibrant and personal relationship with the God of Heaven.
Estrangement (alienation) from that relationship causes the heart to grow cold and indifferent. It can cause us to see our faith as only fulfilling the letter of the law instead of responding to the Spirit of the Lord. It is similar to the reasons a couple may file for divorce – they no longer feel compatible with each other for any variety of reasons. When the priest encounters a couple in this distress, he spends time counseling them and trying to reconcile those differences, and maybe encouraging them to seek specialized and appropriate counseling elsewhere. That process may require the partners to change their actions for the betterment of the relationship. In the same way, when the relationship between man and God is distressed, the Church has means to reconcile these differences. Counseling, confession, and possibly penance may be necessary to restore the soul to be in good standing with God. This is not a new concept – it is the very root of the sacrament of Holy Confession or “Reconciliation”.
The person who says to themself, “I have Christ in my heart. I don’t need Church.” doesn’t understand either Christ or the Church. This is a serious and potentially life-threatening (spiritually speaking) position and needs immediate attention. If you are concerned about your spiritual walk with God, please contact me so we can talk. I look forward to helping you rekindle your relationship with Christ.